Best Of :: Shopping & Services
The name itself--sounding like some kind of punch line to a corny joke--is legendary, helped in no small part by the emergence of local musician/mysterian Har Mar Superstar. Then there is the edifice, an old relic from 1961, in dire need of a face-lift but somehow never getting one. But Har Mar never concedes to its upscale competitors. It's working-class, and proud of it. Flanked by Marshalls and T.J. Maxx, and anchored by an enormous Barnes & Noble in the middle, Har Mar is filled with middlebrow stores that will never allow you to spend too much money--which helps a shopper feel savvy in these sour economic times. The addition of a Cub Foods last summer has bolstered business at the mall, which has long leaned on the 11 screens offered by the Har Mar movie theaters, and in the summer there's a farmers' market every Tuesday morning. In other words, this is a serviceable mall without the pomp and circumstance of the dreaded Mall of America. In fact, wander the halls for a few hours and Har Mar starts to feel like an old childhood friend. And that's no joke.
Natural parents have found allies in the proprietors of Peapods. Inside this earthy little storefront, kids and the grownups who love them will find an endless supply of creative, imaginative, and earth-friendly delights. Wooden animals, rag dolls, finger puppets, and organic child- and baby-care products have been gathered from artisans as far away as Germany, and as nearby as the basement shop. Peapods focuses on toys and books that encourage simple, imaginative play, such as an irresistibly charming, wooden Camelot play set. And the store is mother-owned, so you're likely to be waited on by someone who, besides having a child in tow, will have done her own reliable and reasonable market research.
This comfy and indulgent B&B is only a quick half-hour from the Twin Cities, yet once you're inside, you feel transported to somewhere else entirely. Owner Rita Graybill and her late husband Jon filled their four-suite Victorian with countless antiquities collected during his two decades of military and diplomatic service, creating a mix of international styles that's highly eclectic but fitting. The predominantly Spanish-themed Cadiz Garden Suite is divided into two sections by a double-sided gas fireplace that's visible through glass. On one side of the room is the bed and bath--the former being a cozy four-poster, the latter distinguished by an intricately detailed and brightly colored sink imported from Mexico. The garden room is surrounded by sumptuous plants, orchids, and trees, and blessed at each corner with a handcrafted goldfish bowl, a whirlpool built for two, and a fridge stocked with complimentary drinks. (The three other suites in the house are the Thai-flavored Chiang Mai, the Singapore-styled Raffles Room, and the Burma-like Rangoon Room.) On the morning we stayed, our enjoyably sinful breakfast included stuffed French toast, playfully carved pineapple boats, chorizo sausage, mango-orange juice, fresh scones filled with white chocolate and berries, and a flan-like dessert made with caramelized pears. Given such elegance, the room rentals aren't given away (nightly rates range from $129 to $269, depending on the suite and the season), but the Elephant Walk more than warrants the scrupulous penny-pinching required for a celebratory visit.
Freewheel Bike is deceptively small. From the outside, this West Bank bicycle emporium looks like a modest concrete bunker. But step inside and the array of merchandise is mind-boggling. As you circle the worker-owned store you'll keep noticing new merchandise--dangling from the ceiling, hanging perilously from racks, and stuffed into every inch of space. There are bikes here to fit everyone's tastes; you can purchase a $265 three-speed beach cruiser, a $4,000-plus two seater, or anything in between. Freewheel also stocks a redoubtable selection of helmets, tools, water bottles, and everything else you might need to keep your two-wheel machine mobile. The assortment of bells alone is more impressive than the variety of bikes available at some shops. But what really sets Freewheel apart from other bike shops goes beyond the breadth of available merchandise. Bicycle maintenance classes are offered for $60. For just $6 an hour, more advanced gear heads can utilize Freewheel's extensive assortment of tools to work on their bikes. The shop's bulletin board is a great resource for finding out about the best bike trails in town or upcoming group rides. And the staff is patient and knowledgeable, whether you're a novice or a hardcore cyclist.
"Don't be shy," the Parlor's futuristic Web site beckons provocatively. "Come into the store if for no other reason than to gawk at the very friendly, yet slightly odd bunch of folks we've assembled." While that may sound like a rather rude reason to visit this ultra-trendy body-modification and clothing shop, it is indubitably worth a single visit, regardless of how many holes you have punched in your skin, how many perma-paintings you've added to your canvas, or how hyped-up you are on phat pants and platform shoes. Staffers are knowledgeable and courteous, but most of all, they're serious about their duties. The salon is spotless and well-lighted and has an autoclave machine, ultrasonic cleaner, and two separate sterilization rooms--all of which makes it easy to trust those holding needles. The prices will keep you calm, as well (ears can be pierced for as little as $12; the nose will set you back between $25 and $75; lips and tongues can get done for $30). For a more extensive list of prices, and a baffling rundown of just how many places can be punctured, log on and check out the Parlor's Web site--or, better yet, just swing by.
We searched all over town--the big chains, the specialty shops, the small independents--and we're right back to our perpetual winner. This store has such a strong selection and helpful staff that no one else can compete. Whether you're looking for literary classics, new nonfiction, a semi-obscure poetry tome, or a glossy, general-interest photo book, Ruminator is your best bet. The Minneapolis satellite location is smaller and open shorter hours, but it's more convenient for some and is housed in the gorgeous Open Book building. Both locations offer an enticing 10 percent discount on most hardcovers, and a 25 percent discount is available every month in various genres, including fiction, journalism, poetry, and children's books. True bibliophiles will also appreciate this store for its ever-expanding reading series, which sponsors public appearances by the likes of authors Michael Moore and Jonathan Franzen and many locals.